Australian Parliament House is open to the public.

Parliament House is currently

Francis Michael Forde PC

Portrait of Francis Forde by William Smith, 1974, Historic Memorials Collection

William Joshua Smith (1905-1995), Francis Michael Forde (detail), 1947, Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection. View full image

 Prime Minister, 6 July 1945 to 13 July 1945
Australian Labor Party

Although Francis Forde (1890-1983) was Prime Minister for only eight days, he served more than 30 years in the Queensland and federal parliaments.1 A ‘live wire in public life’2 and a loyal deputy to three prime ministers, Forde was Australia’s second caretaker Prime Minister in six years.

Born in a Queensland outback town to Irish immigrant parents, Forde worked as a teacher before entering the Postmaster-General’s Department in 1910. He joined the Labor Party in 1915, and within two years was elected Member for Rockhampton in the state Legislative Assembly. Following the ALP’s expulsion of sitting member William Higgs,3 Forde won the federal seat of Capricornia in the 1922 election. He was re-elected a further nine times before his eventual defeat in 1946. Forde championed his state’s sugar and cotton industries and advocated strongly for protective tariffs across all domestic industries. The Queensland newspaper The Worker observed: ‘Frank is blessed with a wholesome superabundance of energy that makes his presence felt in any and every cause and question he takes up’.4 In 1925 he married Veronica (Vera) O’Reilly and they had four children.5

Following Labor’s election victory in 1929, Forde held the Trade and Customs portfolio in Scullin’s ministry, being promoted to senior Cabinet minister in 1931. Labor’s crushing defeat later that year left Forde as one of just 14 Labor MPs returned,6 and his relative seniority saw him appointed deputy leader of the Opposition. When Scullin resigned the leadership in 1935, Forde appeared the likely replacement, but lost by a single vote to John Curtin. With Labor returned to power in 1941 and entrenched in World War II, he became Minister for the Army and a key figure in the War Cabinet. He served as acting Prime Minister and Minister for Defence in Curtin’s absence, and was appointed a Privy Counsellor in 1944. Following Curtin’s death in 1945, Forde as caretaker Prime Minister lost the leadership ballot to the popular Treasurer Ben Chifley. He then served as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for the Army, and Minister for Defence until his defeat in the August 1946 election.

Forde was appointed Australia’s High Commissioner to Canada just months later and held the post until 1953. He returned briefly to Queensland state politics in the mid-1950s, though subsequent electoral campaigns were unsuccessful. Forde died in 1983, and was remembered for ‘his lifelong, unswerving dedication and loyalty to the principles and policies of the Australian Labor Party ... Not for [him] were the splits and schisms, the defections and party-switching that plagued the ALP’.7

William Joshua Smith
Sydney-born William Joshua Smith (1905-1995) studied drawing, painting and sculpture at East Sydney Technical College and the Sydney Art School, and became an exhibiting member of the NSW Society of Artists in the 1930s. During World War II he worked for the Civil Constructional Corps as a camouflage artist with fellow artists Douglas Annand, William Dobell, and Donald Friend. Smith won the Archibald Prize in 1944 for his portrait of Speaker of the House of Representatives John Rosevear. In 1953, he became a fellow of the Royal Art Society of NSW and from 1967 to 1972 taught portraiture there before setting up his own school in Lane Cove. He continued to paint portraits for commissions and competitions as well as landscapes and other works. His work is represented in major state galleries and the Manly Art Gallery held a retrospective of his work in 2005-06.8

Francis Michael Forde
by William Joshua Smith
Oil on canvas
114.6 x 84.6 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection

1. Information used in this biography is taken from: N Lloyd and M Saunders, ‘Forde, Francis Michael (Frank) (1890–1983)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 2007; ‘Australia’s prime ministers: Francis Forde’, National Archives of Australia. Websites accessed 18 August 2021.
2. ‘Frank Forde: Member for Capricornia’, The Worker (Brisbane), 3 October 1928, p. 6, accessed 8 August 2021.
3. H Gibbney, ‘Higgs, William Guy (1862–1951)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed 10 August 2021.
4. The Worker, op. cit.
5. ‘Francis Forde’s partner: Vera Forde’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 18 August 2021.
6. This does not include the four NSW ‘Lang Labor’ candidates elected.
7. J Bryant, ‘Obituary: Francis Michael Forde’, The Canberra Times, 29 January 1983, p. 11, accessed 18 August 2021.
8. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: E Riddler, ‘Smith, William Joshua (1905–1995)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 2021; FWD Rost, ‘Joshua Smith: b. 1905’, Design & Art Australia Online, 2011. ‘Smith, Joshua (William Joshua)’, A McCulloch, S McCulloch and E McCulloch Childs, eds, The New McCulloch’s Encyclopedia of Australian Art, Aus Art Editions in association with The Miegunyah Press, 2006, p. 895. Websites accessed 26 March 2021.

Find out what events are coming up at Parliament House


We acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of country throughout Australia and acknowledge their continuing connection to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to the people, the cultures and the elders past, present and emerging.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this website may contain images and voices of deceased people.